When singer Keith Morris cofounded Black Flag and Circle Jerks in the late ’70s, punk seemed as likely to implode as endure. Thirty years later, Morris formed the supergroup Off!—and it too seemed similarly liable to flame out. Off!’s bold, berserk 2010 debut, First Four EPs, burned more calories than Morris had expended during the previous two decades combined. Staying power, though, has never been a worry for Morris. His nasal, righteous, rage-choked voice is timeless in its tenacity, and his influence only grows as punk becomes more deeply rooted in the cultural bedrock. The problem with Off!’s new, self-titled album isn’t Morris’ (or his band’s) performances, which are once again solid, inspired, and startlingly youthful; it’s that Morris can’t seem to tell the difference between celebrating his legacy and obsessing over it.
The title of First Four EPs—a nod to Black Flag’s The First Four Years, on which Morris appears—was the first clue that the famed mouthpiece was in danger of pickling himself in his own history. The second clue was the music itself; right out of the gate, Off! sounded like a cross between Black Flag and Circle Jerks, fusing the angular aggression of the former with the bratty brevity of the latter. Exhausting yet exhilarating, Off! is no different. On “Borrow And Bomb,” Morris and his bandmates (Redd Kross’ Steven McDonald, Burning Brides’ Dimitri Coats, and Hot Snakes’ Mario Rubalcaba) deliver an accelerated, authoritative lecture on classic hardcore. The searing, tightly coiled “Zero For Conduct” taunts jerks who have “arrogant smirks” by fighting fire with inferno. And on opener “Wiped Out,” the indelible riff of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” is played sideways, providing a jagged backdrop for Morris’ lunging, bloody-nosed tirade against fatigue—one that couldn’t be any more energizing.
The Black Flag references take a turn for the troubling, though, on “I Got News For You,” which lashes out at Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn: “You think you’re the king of the scene / That you created,” pouts Morris, sounding more like a kid on a playground than a grizzled punk vet. Then, with the line, “You bet I’ve got something against you too,” he mocks Black Flag’s “You Bet We’ve Got Something Personal Against You!”—a 1980 song that blasts Morris for covering two Black Flag tracks on Circle Jerks’ Group Sex without asking his former group. Morris has decided to trot out a forgotten feud that’s older than many of Off!’s fans. It isn’t flattering. Worse, his tantrum casts the rest of Off! in a bad light; after all, the album’s blatantly worshipful riffs wouldn’t exist if Ginn hadn’t forged their template decades ago. Luckily, Off! makes up for its self-serving petulance with sharp songwriting and pure, crusty potency. If only Morris had realized that the fountain of youth is more fun when there’s not a turd floating in it.